The Big Story: The Art of Superb Service

Serve Right

Master the art of superb service & win loyal customers for life

This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of INVISION.

Americans have plenty of places to buy eyewear and get eyecare these days. They can order contacts online in their PJs between episodes of binge-watching Orange Is the New Black. They can get an exam at the big-box store, between fueling the car and picking up groceries. Why should they go out of their way to come to you?

You spend a lot of energy trying to win new customers and patients, and that’s always important. But these days, it’s far more crucial to keep your current clientele ridiculously happy.

You know you offer superior service and quality eyewear at a fair price, but that’s not enough. You need to give people reasons to stick with you — and tell their family and friends why they’d rather get their glasses or contacts at your shop.

Everybody knows the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” But it’s not really about you, is it? Retail consultant Tony Alessandra says that to be really successful in retail, you need to follow what he calls the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they’d like done unto them.”

Aaron Supianoski, administrator at Kirschner Vision Group, says he has yet another twist on the Golden Rule at the practice’s offices in Homewood and Orland Park, IL. “I have the ‘Grandma Rule’: Treat everyone how you would want your own grandmother to be treated.”

Here are INVISION’s tips for following the “Platinum Rule” to win over your newest customers — and keep an iron grip on your valuable customer base.

The Basics

At its core, customer service is really pretty easy, but it requires paying attention, especially in a highly service-oriented business like eyecare and eyewear. The basic rules are these:

1) Make a fantastic first impression. Jay Binkowitz of GPN Consulting does many site visits each year. All too often, he says, “we know from the moment we walk into an office that our senses are being attacked by unwanted experiences. What we see, hear and smell in the first 10 seconds will set the stage for the final outcome of the interaction with your consumer.” Ask family, friends or a consultant to give you objective, honest feedback on how your business feels to them.

Dr. Keshav Bhat of Austin Village Eyecare in Matthews, NC, has a list of behaviors that show he and his staff care: “Smile, compliment, acknowledge, listen carefully, address needs, show passion for the profession,” he says. Don’t forget the personal hand-off to the optician, shake hands after the exam, “and be shameless in asking for referrals,” he adds.

2) Welcome everyone who comes through the door. “Set the stage with a great introduction,” Binkowitz says. “‘Hi, Mrs. Smith. My name is Jay. I see your name is Kathleen, may I call you Kathy?’ Get personal from the beginning and set the tone to create a warm relationship.”

Adds Daniel Amyx — who owns Hillmoor Optical in Port Saint Lucie, FL, and Treasure Coast Opticians in Vero Beach — “Treat everyone with respect and consideration, bordering on affection. We treat everyone with the same respect and honesty that we do our own relatives.”

3) Remember that the patients’ and customers’ needs come first. Even before they show up, make it easy for people to patronize your practice. Offer online scheduling. Ask people how they want you to contact them — whether via phone, email, text or postcard — and honor their preferences. Never just be in it for the money. Amyx says he and his staff “listen intently to their needs and desires so we may design a perfect pair of glasses specifically for them, without adding unnecessary items only to increase the value of the sale.”

4) Know your products and their stories. And be sure your staff does, too. Bill Gerber, creative director of OMG! the Optical Marketing Group, says your customers “want to become impassioned with the wonders of optics and design and share these discoveries with friends and family. Is the item on display made in limited quantities, featured in a movie, inspired by the sea, proven to improve acuity?” Let people know what makes your wares special. Hold weekly meetings so everyone is on the same page, especially for new and featured lines. Spring for education and in-store sales training.

5) Empower your employees to make customer-service decisions in your absence. Big-box stores offer instant gratification. E-tailers deliver convenience. People don’t like to wait. Make it easy on your patients and clientele — and on yourself — by having staff members who can work with people on the fly. If you’re asking people to wait a week or so for quality, custom-fit eyewear, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to order. Reduce the roadblocks. As much as possible, ban the phrase, “I need to ask my boss about that.”

6) Reward your best customers — and employees. A classic study from the Gartner Group found that 80 percent of your future profits come from 20 percent of your current clients. Give those high-value people all the love they deserve — and then some. The same goes for your staff. Herb Kelleher, the legendary co-founder of Southwest Airlines, famously said: “Happy and pleased employees take care of the customers. And happy customers take care of shareholders by coming back.”

7) Exceed expectations. As the Real Deal scenario in this issue notes, practices get in trouble when expectations are too high. It’s better to follow the advice of David Newman — noted in this issue’s book review on page 63 — and strive never make a promise you can’t keep. “We always underpromise and overdeliver. We dispense premium products and explain to our patients how they are custom made for them, their vision needs and the frame they choose,” says Diana Sims of Buena Vista Optical, Chicago, IL. “Sometimes patients have a ‘microwave mentality’ and want everything in one hour or less. We tell them two weeks. Our turn-around time is five to six business days, so 99 percent of the time, we call the patient to pick up their eyewear before the two weeks and they are always pleasantly surprised.”

Next Steps

Once you’ve mastered the basics of customer service, go further toward delighting your patients and clients with some of these ideas.

1) Give first-time customers a tour. Retail is all about the experience these days. You may not have pneumatic tubes (like Warby Parker does in its Lexington Avenue location in New York) or a Genius Bar like the Apple Store. But whatever the special touches you have in your shop — whether a wall of happy customer photos, a framed write-up from the local paper, a play area for the kids or a wi-fi password patients can use while they wait — don’t keep them a secret.

2) Take time to really get to know your repeat clients. Jack Mitchell, author of Hug Your Customers, notes that you SKU your products so you have critical information available as you need it. Why not do the same for your customers? Build a database with as much information on each of your customers as you do on any of your products. Get all the obvious stuff in there — as well as less obvious stuff like hobbies, pets’ names, golf handicap, and their preferred coffee flavor.

There’s been a trend toward renaming the “waiting room” the “reception area” — and GPN’s Binkowitz suggests still another name. “Your waiting area needs to be your living room,” he says, “and you and your entire team need to set the stage to create and support a more socially relaxed environment. When was the last time you or your team sat down in the waiting area and simply socialized with your patients?” Recognize people by name: “Hi, Mrs Jones how are you today? Are we taking good care of you? I heard you recently got back from vacation. How was the trip?”

3) Make people feel comfortable. Little things matter most. “We always ask our patients what music they would like to listen to while they are in the exam room,” says Dr. Ted McElroy, optometrist at Vision Source in Tifton, GA. “We always offer water to our patients as it gets warm here in Arizona. We always give free cloths, cleaner and repairs,” adds James Snow of Experts on Sight in Gilbert, AZ. And, at Art of Optiks in Wayzata, MN, staff members will always walk customers to the bathroom instead of simply pointing in its direction.

We’re all used to taking ample time to find the right clothing and shoes. The same should go for eyewear. “I always approach styling my clients from a wardrobe standpoint, which they’re generally not used to,” says Duane Littles of Duane Littles Eyewear of Brooklyn, NY. “I get them playing and trying on things that they might not try on themselves. I try to make it a fun, relaxing atmosphere for them, whether they end up purchasing at the moment or not.”

“We love to have fun in our office, says Toni Herron of Henry Ford OptimEyes in Westland, MI. “Many Saturdays, we pop popcorn and give it out to our patients. They love it! We want our patients to feel like they are part of our family and we want them to participate in the fun we have each day.” (P.S. Did you notice that she mentions how they do this on Saturdays? Being open when people have time to visit you is an important way to show that you value them — and want to make it easy for them to do business with you.)

4) Thank them. Then thank them again — and be sure they’re happy. Of course, you want to send people on their way with a verbal thanks for their patronage. But you can also tuck a personal thank-you note in the bag with their eyewear or contacts — then be back in touch a few days later to be sure all is well.

“We do a call-back three to five days after delivery to check that they are happy and seeing well as well as being seen well,” says Eric Geiger, owner of Styleyes in Sacramento, CA.

5) Reach out with the latest news. Personally call or email your customers to tell them about new frames and lenses you think are particularly suited for them. Email is a great tool. It’s less intrusive than phone calls, so if you have an email address, use it. A quick personal email is far better than a blanket mass-mailing (though regular email bulletins have their value, too). With email, instead of calling someone to say, “Oh, we’ve got this great new frame in that I really think you’ll like,” you can actually send a picture of it. Teri Focht of Eyes All Over in St. Paul, MN, says she spends an hour or two each month writing personal emails to let customers know about new products. “It lets the patient know I’m working for them and they appreciate the time and effort,” she says. “I get a lot of referrals because of the personal touches.”

6) Give gifts for purchases or inconveniences. When Eye Candy of Delafield, WI, makes a sale, the client gets custom M&Ms. (Eye Candy ... M&Ms ... get it?) Tokens of appreciation are also appropriate when things don’t go quite as planned. “When we have a delay, we send a note with a gift card for coffee or sometimes a free movie,” says Dr. Jarod Wood of Wood Vision Clinic in Iowa Falls, IA.

And sometimes there’s the true “Murphy’s Law” patient where everything that can go wrong, does. When that happens for Dr. Robert Smith at Smith Optometry in St. Louis, “we will give them a gift certificate for a local restaurant, with an emphasis on local. That’s a win-win: the patient is happy, the restaurant gets business and we get referrals from the restaurant personnel.”

Family Eye Care of New Kensington, PA, does a cross-promotion with the restaurant across the street, giving anyone who buys eyewear coupons worth $5 off of anything on the menu. In turn, the restaurant distributes Family Eye Care’s scratch-off “lottery” tickets good for such things as a free cleaning cloth, 20 percent off non-prescription sunwear, 50 percent off a frame with the purchase of lenses, or $5 off of any purchase. Repeat customers at the restaurant can collect tickets worth a total of $50 off their eyewear.

7) Offer home or workplace delivery. When eyewear e-tailers deliver the goods these days, they do so via the U.S. Postal Service or FedEx. But when you go the extra mile (or two) to save your clients a trip, it definitely makes an impression. “Once a month, our doctor sees patients at the local nursing homes and assisted living facilities,” says Tracy Roberts of Family Eye Care & Mavor Optical in Caribou, ME. “He will also do home visits, and we will deliver glasses or contacts to our patients if they are homebound or unable to come into the office.” Daniel Amyx in Florida notes that he and his staff sometimes go out to an elderly person’s vehicle to take measurements if the person has mobility problems.

(This brings us back to the Grandma Rule: Obviously, many seniors are more active than ever, but when you can go the extra mile to help people who have slowed down, it impresses them and everyone around them. And don’t forget: Harried professionals and parents of young children would applaud repairs at their workplace or home delivery, too.)

8) Know the competition — including online sellers. In a revealing blog post earlier this year (read it at, Bess Ogden of The Williams Group detailed her experience shopping for glasses online. She expected the worst and was surprisingly pleased with every aspect of the transaction. “The point is that it is absolutely critical that you understand your competition and create your own unique brand and identity,” she says. “Understand that more and more you will be seeing only those patients who love to try glasses on in a store, who enjoy interacting with your staff in an attractive and luxurious atmosphere, whose prescriptions are higher or more complex, or who have more sensitivity to small changes in Rx.” You can own these customers for life if you understand their needs and exceed them.

Don’t be scared. Ask your customers what they think of your competitors, says Ron E. Gielgun, author of 222 Ways to Promote Your Business. This works in two ways: If your customers criticize aspects of your competitors’ business or service, you’ll know that you should do the opposite. On the other hand, if they sing your competitors’ praises, you’ll know what they’re doing right — and you can figure out how to do the same things, only better.

Above and Beyond

Here are some things you can do to all but guarantee your customers won’t ditch you:

1) Adjust everywhere. “I have been known to adjust glasses at the grocery store when needed,” says Tracy Roberts of Family Eye Care & Mavor Optical in Maine.

2) Say something nice. Consultant Rick Segel, author of the Retail Business Kit for Dummies, suggests that you learn how to harness the power of a good compliment. “If you wait on somebody with a happy, bubbly personality, why not tell them how much fun it’s been to serve them? Alternatively, if you’re waiting on the toughest, most demanding customer around, why not tell them that you appreciate someone who knows what he likes?”

3) Beyond birthday cards: Jeffries Eye Care in Sebring, OH, gives a copy of the Dr. Seuss Eye Book to new parents and milkshake cards for anniversaries, says Dr. Bruce Jeffries.

4) Write stuff down. Working out a purchase price for some eyewear? It gets complicated, right? Ron Zemke suggests writing your calculations neatly on a page with your name, phone number and email address. Add notations that explain why you’re including various options, such as “A/R coating for safer driving.” Your customer will be glad to have it as a reference and will more easily remember you — and the service you offer that’s far beyond what Glasses R Us can achieve.

5) Send a care package. Julie Kubsch of Specs Around Town in Bloomington, IL, sent a hand-selected set of frames to a client in Colorado. “Her son is battling cancer and she’s missing her visits to Specs. Her best friend delivered (the frames) and they had an eyewear party! Extra special surprise!”

6) Try a lifetime-discount card. Discounts are a tricky game in the vision care business. But, at the very least, you can do something to make your longest-term patients and customers feel special. For example, consider a lifetime-discount card. Give the clients who have been with you the longest — or spent the most — a card or certificate which gets them 10 percent off on anything they buy. Forever.


Want to become a master of customer service? It’s easy, says Jeffrey Gitomer, author of Customer Satisfaction Is Worthless, Customer Loyalty Is Priceless and other books.

1) Read about positive attitude for 15 minutes each morning for 30 days. Instead of your morning dose of news headlines, start your day with a page or two from classic positive thinkers like Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale or Dale Carnegie.

2) Change your customer surveys. Don’t ask a lot of questions, just ask the right ones. Instead of asking customers “Would you recommend us?” ask “How will you recommend us?” The answers to this will help you identify your “raving fans.”

3) Try to get an unsolicited letter of praise from a customer about the way you made them feel. It’s a simple — but extremely effective — goal to shoot for. Don’t encourage your customers to write the letters — except by providing exemplary service. Says Gitomer: “Don’t stop until you get one. See how long it takes.” Suggested start time for this challenge? Right this instant. You might not get the letter you want right away, but customers will see the difference immediately.